Well. Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) award-winning
Business and human rights groups urged Congress on Thursday to ease the decades-old embargo on Cuba by passing a bipartisan bill to lift a ban on travel to the communist country and remove certain obstacles to legal farm sales.
"We believe the proposed legislation represents a necessary step toward ending a U.S. policy that has failed for decades to have any impact on improving human rights in Cuba," Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director the Americas division of Human Rights Watch, said at a congressional hearing.
After 10 years of traveling to Cuba and studying our policy toward the island, I’ve developed strong opinions on both. But to keep myself honest, I continually read what the “other half” thinks, and challenge myself not only to admit points of agreement, but to question my own accumulated conclusions.
Not long ago I participated in the 50th anniversary conference at Shaw University of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and had the honor to meet Taylor Branch, Pulitzer prize winning author of three seminal volumes on the civil rights movement. Our conversation led me to his more recent book, “The Clinton Tapes, Wrestling History with the President”.
Cuba comes up several times. Following are two excerpts worth careful consideration by the President and Secretary of State:
Photo credit: Roubicek's photostream
Cuban economists Armando Nova and Omar Everleny Perez just completed a speaking tour in recent weeks that has helped to explain what's behind much of the discussion around reform in Cuba. One noteworthy contribution of their talks has been to lift the lid on issues of corruption in Cuba in the context of the current economic crisis. The University of Havana economists argue that there is no alternative to dramatic reforms to the Cuban economic system, largely because there is no escaping the reality that Cubans have no alternative themselves to operating on a vast black market that has appropriated the system for its own ends. The reforms we're reading about aren't reforms so much as an attempt to throw the responsibility for maintenance of the system onto those who, as Ted Henken put it on this page, are cannibalizing it from within.
In the United States we have a different form of social cannibalism -- the kind that seeks to turn our political structures into a black market for influence (shocking, I know). But sometimes the system works to prevent a wrong, as occurred this week when Roll Call blew the whistle on an interesting fund raising strategy proposed by a leader of the folks who have advocated harsh measures against Cuba. Congresswoman Ileana Ros Lehtinen ranking minority member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, decided she wanted to get a little help from supportive PACs as she shaped U.S. foreign policy. And she is nothing if not forward-thinking -- her invitation to potential advisors read: "When the GOP regains the majority, I would turn to you for advice on pertinent issues affecting our nation." A modest invitation fee, $2,500 per PAC, is all it takes to get you in the door.
But it was not to be. Roll Call was only the first to call the Congresswoman out on this, reminding us all of the section of the House Ethics Manual that reads: “a Member should not sponsor or participate in any solicitation that offers donors any special access to the Member in the Member’s official capacity.” Once the event was canceled, other outlets followed (CQ here and the Miami Herald here). It gives one hope to see a little old-fashioned muckraking in the public interest.
Photo Credit: U.S. State Department
May 20th is Cuban Independence Day, or at least it is for some Cubans, as many on the island do not consider May 20, 1902 as the date they gained their true independence because the Platt Amendment gave the United States the authority to intervene in Cuba’s affairs. Nevertheless, to celebrate what they consider Cuban Independence Day, the Cuban American National Foundation will be hosting a $150/ person event in Miami, and the keynote speaker will be none other than Arturo Valenzuela, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
With the media focusing on the polarizing politics of engagement between the U.S. and Cuba, it is easy to overlook some of the great things that ordinary Cubans are doing on the island and around the world. Too often, Cuba is mentioned only in the context of the embittered embargo and the tense situation on the island. But one story has come out recently that highlights the good work done by ordinary people.
Today marks 10 years since federal agents stormed the Miami home of the Cuban American relatives of a five year-old Cuban boy named Elián González.
It was in the middle of the Elián saga that I made my first trip to Cuba – which I never imagined would be the first of many.
Over the years, I’ve gotten to know many Cubans and Cuban Americans. If there is a lesson to be learned from the Elián saga, it is this: ideological differences can split a community, but they should never split up a family.
Photo credit: ClixYou's Photostream
Cardinal Jaime Ortega's interview in the Catholic publication Palabra Nueva received ample attention in the press here in the United States. While noting the point – obvious to observers of all political persuasions – that Cuba is not responding well to the myriad challenges it confronts, the Cardinal called for “the prayers and actions of all the faithful so that love, reconciliation and forgiveness will open between Cubans here and elsewhere.” And he called for Cuba to respect its own constitution and grant the Church full religious freedom "so that it can fully develop its mission in Cuba, to support the common good."
Omar Everleny Perez Villanueva at the Bildner Center's "The Cuban Economy Today" Symposium. Photo Credit: Ted Henken
The Times They Are (indeed) A-Changin' - but how fast and how much?
Since El Yuma first started traveling to and following Cuba back in 1997, there have been a number of ups and downs in US-Cuban relations, just as there have been various cycles of ups and downs in the Cuban Economy and the socio-political situation within Cuba itself.
Photo Credit: Joe Crimmings Photography
When President Obama said he'd be the main attraction at a Democratic fundraiser in the home of Cuban American superstar Gloria Estefan, some speculated that he'd be swayed by her passion for the human rights of Cubans and say something (or something more) that would further condition U.S. policy on how the Cuban government treats its citizens.
Photo Credit: Ted Henken
In this first guest post, El Yuma would like to thank The Havana Note for mentioning my letter to the editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education last month. Readers of THN might be interested to learn that The Chronicle did print and post my letter defending the possibility of doing "real" research in Cuba in its April 11 edition just out this week.
By Jorge Piñon and Anya Landau French
Earlier this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commented that Cuba always finds a way to sabotage progress in U.S.-Cuban relations. But the apparent resumption of USAID-sponsored clandestine travel to the island is well on its way to doing exactly that. One year ago, President Obama has said he wanted a new beginning with Cuba, but that message is unfortunately muddled by his Administration's willingness to continue essentially the same regime change policies of his predecessor. Here in Havana, there is increasing frustration with Obama. As one person told me the other day, "With [former President] Bush, at least you know who you are dealing with."
At the beginning of this week President Obama is focused on one of the most serious and difficult to solve problems confronting any administration, the danger of proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Later in the week he will be in Miami and face one of the most enduring yet solvable of administration foreign policy problems, Cuba.
This could be the most appropriate place and best chance he has to reset US relations with Havana, and thus with the western Hemisphere.
As I wrote here last week, both countries appear to be retreating to well-worn and counterproductive positions.
Secretary of State Clinton replied to a question at the University of Louisville:
From Jurvetson's photostream
As Miami Herald columnist Myriam Marquez noted yesteday, Emilio and Gloria Estefan are eager to share their stories about Cuba with President Obama when he visits their home for a Democratic fundraiser this week. Their goal, writes Marquez, is to prevail on President Obama to put human rights at the top, and give the island's 11 million people hope.
But what is the best way to give hope, given the dire needs and growing desperation for change on the island?
Update: Marc Frank of Reuters reports on the nation-wide transfer of government operated barber shops and beauty salons to their employees.
You won't find a soul in Cuba who doesn't agree that the country's government has a lot of economic restructuring to do in the coming months and years. The question is always how to do it.
A common Irish nationalist symbol serving to represent the ten men who died after a hunger strike in 1981.
Raul Castro made it crystal clear that the Cuban Government would not be conceding to any hunger strikers’ demands in a speech to the Communist Youth League on April 4th. While he reiterated his regret over the February death of Orlanda Zapata Tamayo, who died after an 85-day hunger strike while in Cuban jail, Castro pointedly dismissed Zapata’s, and the current hunger striker, Guillermo Farinas’s demands as “absurd” and put the responsibility of their death on themselves and those he believes put them up to the task.
Rev. Raimundo Garcia and his daughter Rita with XO computers donated by FRD to establish a One Laptop Per Child pilot project at the Christian Center for Reflection and Dialogue in Cardenas.
“the president seems more convinced than ever that we must place strict preconditions on any changes in U.S. policy”
Wishful thinking (hopefully) by Roger Noriega, former staff of Sen. Jesse Helms and President Bush’s Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, commenting in Forbes Magazine on President Obama
As I return from my twelfth or thirteenth visit to Cuba in as many years, it is hard not to feel frustrated that both countries are retreating to the tired and self-righteous rhetoric and practices of past decades.
You have to hand it to Amb. Roger Noriega, former U.S. Representative to the OAS and former Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere under President G.W. Bush. When our fifty year-old failed Cuba policy is in trouble, he steps up to defend it the best he can.
Photo Credit: Desde La Habana
Senator John Kerry’s decision to put a hold on U.S. aid for Cuban dissidents through the USAID’s Cuba democracy program was met with support from some seemingly unlikely people: the Cuban recipients of the funds that stand to possibly lose the money.
In an AFP article found here, several prominent Cuban dissidents state their support for a review of the $20 million program, which currently goes to support political prisoners and their families, promote the development of civil society, and provide communications equipments to opposition groups.